Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Plucky Glushko can’t overcome cough, Zavatska in first-round of qualifiers • Sela also ousted

NEW YORK – The Yiddish-originating adage of “man plans, and God laughs” applies even to professional tennis players. All the best coaching, practice sessions, healthy eating and natural talents cannot guard against life’s unpredictable occurrences. On Tuesday, Israel’s Julia Glushko was in action in the first round of the US Open Qualifying Tournament, having returned to New York after a year of numerous, unexpected health and medical issues. 

The 29-year-old Glushko, currently ranked No. 248, faced 19-year-old Ukrainian power hitter Katarina Zavatska (No. 127) in the mid-day heat in Flushing Meadows. Long rallies, careful shot selection, and very few double faults and unforced errors kept the 2-hour, 25-minute slugfest close for two sets. Glushko took the first set 7-5, but Zavatska fought back to close out the second set 6-3 as her set-point shot rolled off the top of the net, landing far out of Glushko’s reach.

Following a short break, Glushko took the first game of the decisive set before quickly falling behind 4-1. Glushko held serve at 4-2 and lost the next two games, double faulting to end the match in a 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 defeat. 

“It was a good match,” said Glushko’s coach Keren Shlomo. “Zavatska played really well. She doesn’t give you anything. You have to work for everything.” 

In a post-match interview, Glushko added, “I had so many heath issues, it was scary. I had just one thing after another!” 

Glushko’s rough year actually started in the first round of last year’s US Open, when she hurt her left knee and fell to the ground in severe pain during her match against Monica Niculescu. Her knee was taped and she made what appeared to be a semi-miraculous recovery. Glushko battled back to win the match before losing in the second round to the eventual tournament champion Naomi Osaka. 
When Glushko returned to Israel, she learned that she had a fracture in her left knee. Once the fracture healed, she had surgery to clean the meniscus. Following a nearly seven-month recovery and rehabilitation, Glushko entered the qualifying tournament at Indian Wells, California. She played several tournaments in China and in Europe before again being sidelined – this time with sinus inflammation.

Glushko then entered the French Open qualifying tournament, where she lost in the third round and suffered a shoulder injury. She played in the qualifying tournament of Wimbledon in July, despite lingering shoulder pain. She was then diagnosed with a blood infection, which caused her to miss most of this summer’s US tournaments. Just a week ago, Glushko developed a cough and was treated with antibiotics. 

“It has been very on and off this year,” said the Israeli. “I feel like half the tournaments I was either playing injured or sick.” 
She described missing one her favorite tournaments, the Australian Open, and she missed playing with her Israeli teammates to the Fed Cup. 

“I learned that I can’t control life. You always have some deadline to make, or a tournament or a ranking. I learned that life is just bigger than that. I tried to control life too much. It doesn’t work… I just try to be happy each day.” 

Meanwhile, Dudi Sela hoped his visit to New York would last at least a week or two. The 34-year-old Israeli, ranked No. 167 in the world and on his way back from injuries which kept him out of last year’s US Open, needed to win three matches in this week’s US Open Qualifying Tournament to secure one of 16 coveted spots in the men’s main draw.

 Instead, Sela was dismissed in just over two hours in the first round of the qualifying tournament by 27-year-old Canadian Steven Diez, ranked No. 175. Sela called for the trainer in the third set to treat his wrist, before falling 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Sela is no stranger to the US Open. Since 2003, he has been entertaining fans in Flushing Meadows, often in come-from-behind battles late in the night. He played the US Open qualifying tournaments in 2003, 2005 and 2006 without advancing to the main draw. 
From 2007-2011, and again from 2013-2017, Sela made it to the main singles draw, though never advancing past the second round. His career won/loss record at the US Open is 6-10.

Sela returned to this year’s US Open after skipping last year’s tournament due to a wrist injury. He has also dealt with back injuries in recent years. Sela mostly played Challenger tournaments in 2019; success in these lower level tournaments helped him acquire ranking points.

In June, Sela won the inaugural Little Rock Open, an ATP Challenger Tour, marking his 23rd career win and his first in two years. Sela has earned slightly under $47,000 in prize money this year, and just under $4 million in his career. In 2009, Sela reached a career high ranking of 29. First-round losers in this year’s US Open Qualifying Tournament earn $11,000.

On Tuesday, Sela generally dictated the pace early in the match and enjoyed support of vocal Israelis in the crowd, cruising to an easy 6-4 win.

Diez held serve in the first game of the second set before Sela went up 3-1, displayed masterful shot selection and placement, and he appeared on course to win close out the match. However, Diez hit a series of successful passing shots and held serve to take the second set 6-4.

Sela came out fighting in the third set, but Diez quickly took held control and broke Sela to go up 3-0. Sela appeared on course for a comeback when down 4-2, however following a series of balls hit long and wide, the Israeli appeared to lose his desire and Diez closed out the final set 6-2. 

Other Jewish players in action on Tuesday include Noah Rubin, the 23-year-old from Long Island, New York who was the Wimbledon boys’ title in 2014, and Jamie Loeb, 24, of Ossining, New York. Loeb was the 2015 NCAA champion at the University of North Carolina.

Currently ranked No. 195, Rubin notched a 6-2, 6-3 first-round victory over Gianluca Mager of Italy.
“The first win definitely helps moving forward,” said Rubin. “More than anything, I just want to have fun and enjoy myself, and that is why I am here.”

Loeb was ousted in her match by No. 29 Harriet Dart of England.

“It’s always great having a home crowd,” said Loeb following her 6-2, 7-6 loss to Dart on Tuesday. “I wish I could’ve pulled it out today, but it’s tough.”

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Friendship Circle & ZABS Place
100 N Trade St, Matthews, NC 28105

Website:  FriendshipCircleNC.org; ZABSPlace.org
Social Media: @FCclt @ZABSPlace
Phone: 704.724.6270
bgroner@friendshipcircle.comrochel@zabsplace.org
Name of contact/founders: Rochel and Rabbi Bentzion Groner | Executive Director, Friendship Circle & ZABS Place
Article:  https://www.chabad.org/news/article_cdo/aid/3756012/jewish/The-Trendy-Boutique-That-Employs-People-With-Special-Needs.htm

Resale boutique in suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina run by people with disabilities and Friendship Circle.

My Visit:

In the summer of 2017, I spent a day and a half at Zab’s Place near Charlotte, NC with Rabbi Bentzion and Rochel Groner, founders of Friendship Circle in Charlotte. They are also founders of Zab’s Place. I wrote the article above for Chabad.org and have re-contacted them in December, 2018 for an update on the program and to ask about challenges and lessons learned.

From Website:

Our Mission: Our goal is to make dreams come true for young adults with special talents. We strive to address the critical shortage of employment opportunities for young adults with special needs by providing jobs with personalized training. With an estimated 66,000 adults with special needs currently living in Mecklenburg County and a national employment rate of 18.7% in 2017, ZABS Place seeks to shift the paradigm by assessing the abilities and skills of individuals and customizing training to harness their special talents.

Our Vision: We envision a community where young adults with special needs can transition from high school to the adult working world with dignity. With the launch of ZABS Place, we see the Charlotte community more able to recognize abilities in others and see past external differences. We foresee special young adults able to capitalize on their strengths, acquire essential job skills, realize their potential, and gain confidence in interacting with their typically developing peers.

ZAB’s Place Updates November 18, 2018)

1. NBC’s Today’s Show came to ZABS Place November 12th, 13th and 14th, filmed the daily happenings at ZABS an interviewed our ZABS Talent. We’re not sure when it will air but we’ll keep you posted!

2. We recently launched a Talent Accelerator Program to help mentor our Young Adults on advancing their skill positions and launching their careers. We’re also stepping up our placement program to help educate local businesses on potentially hiring our graduates.

3. Our Recent Pajama Walk (to make dreams come true for individuals with special needs/talents) hosted an Ability Fair where we invited individuals with special needs from all over our community to display their art and creations and sell them to Pajama Walk Participants.

4. In September ZABS Place was selected as one of four local non-profits to receive 24 hours of Pro Bono Marketing/Branding services by the prestigious LGA Marketing Agency. It’s called Goodstock and a team of 15 marketing professionals helped refresh the ZABS Place branding and helped us create a definitive identity. Here is a brief presentation of what they created for us, as well as a video they created for us as well. On top of all that, they even made a monetary donation!

Lesson’s Learned/Observations:

-Issue of payment for the work is tricky due to concern around losing government benefits if earnings are too high.

-We prefer the term “Special Talents” over “special needs” or “disabilities.”

-There is no set system that works for everyone when it comes with young adults with special talents. Everyone needs his or her own plan.  (Example:  One person is learning to greet customers and one is learning to NOT greet every single customer (one is very shy and needs help in social aspect; one gets too friendly and needs to learn to say hi one time and that’s it).  Each person has his or her own plan which identifies skill areas and areas in need of growth.  There is no one size fits all. Each individual is treated as an individual. As they saying goes. If you know 5 individuals with autism, you know 5 individuals with autism (and they are all different!)

-It is important to track progress.  We do it through a Talent Accelerator and follow how participants get from Point A to Point B.  We don’t just hire for a job and check a box.  We want to see the person get form a to b, tracking a goal, and skills they are learning to grow and develop.  Each person’s point b is different based on passions, interests, areas they need help in.  This is crucial part of any plan to hire people with special talents.  One man in our program wants to be a car salesman but his challenge is with actual communicating and asking questions and identifying tasks he needs to to—we are working with him on going for an interview with a mechanical company to work with cars (coaching is on prep for interview)

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

The 32-year-old catcher played for Team Israel during its run through World Baseball Classic qualifiers and tournament in 2017

Ryan Lavarnway is one of the lucky ones – if you consider switching jobs every few months on average “lucky” – though he doesn’t take his success for granted.

The 32-year-old catcher, who played for Team Israel during its stellar run through the World Baseball Classic qualifiers and tournament in 2017, has bounced around Major League Baseball, but mostly in the minors – with 10 teams in 10 years. Still, Lavarnway represents the roughly 10 percent of minor league baseball players who ever see action in the majors.

The California-born Colorado resident has been blessed with memorable moments with several major league teams, and has faced often unexpected, last-minute call-ups and cross-country moves – including three in the past month alone.

“It has been crazy!” exclaimed Lavarnway to The Jerusalem Post during a phone interview from his hotel room in Louisville, Kentucky following a Sunday game in which he went 1-for-3 for the AAA Louisville Bats in a 12-0 loss to the Toledo Mud Hens.

“One day you are in Triple-A in Scranton, Pennsylvania [for the New York Yankees]. The next day, you are in the big leagues.”

In July, Lavarnway was released by the Yankees and immediately signed with the Cincinnati Reds, where he hit two home runs and had six RBIs in his Reds’ debut on July 19, becoming the first Reds catcher to tally three hits, two homers, and six RBI in a game since the legendary Johnny Bench did it in 1973. He went 5-for-18 in five games with the team before being sent down to Cincinnati’s AAA affiliate in Louisville.

Given Lavarnway’s chaotic past month and the 140-game minor league baseball schedule, it is impressive that he was able to commit to a day and time to speak with a reporter. He was upbeat, friendly and forthcoming in recounting his exciting and fulfilling baseball journey so far.

He vividly recalled career highlights, including his first two-homer game with the Boston Red Sox, and a similarly exhilarating walk-off homer with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lavarnway also spoke fondly about his great run with Team Israel, and his amazing trip Israel.

Lavarnway was born in Burbank, California, grew up in Woodland Hills, California, and has mainly been a catcher – with stints in the outfield and first base – since his little league days. He attended Yale University in Connecticut for three years, where he juggled his academic studies with a very successful baseball experience.

Lavarnway earned Ivy Player and Rookie of the Week honors in March 2006 as a right fielder before switching to catcher full-time. In 2007, he led the NCAA in batting average (.467) and slugging percentage (.873), set the Yale single-season record in batting average, slugging percentage, home runs (14), hits (70), doubles (17), RBIs (55), and total bases (131). He also had an Ivy-League-record 25-game hitting streak and won the G.H. Walker, Jr. Award as Most Valuable Player.

In his junior year in 2008, Lavarnway led the Ivy League in home runs (13), RBIs (42), walks (29), slugging percentage (.824), and on-base percentage (.541), while batting .398. He missed the last 11 games of the year after breaking a bone in his left wrist while diving into home plate in April. He finished his three-year college career with a .384 batting average, 33 home runs, and 122 RBIs in 120 games, and he became the Ivy League’s all-time leader in career home runs.

Lavarnway left Yale 11 credits short of graduation as he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox. He played at every level of the minors within the Red Sox organization –from the Class A South Atlantic League Greenville Drive, to the Class A+ Carolina League Salem Red Sox, to the Class AA Eastern League Portland Sea Dogs. He racked up many honors, including 2010 Red Sox co-Minor League Offensive Player of the Year. Lavarnway spent the 2011 season between the AA Portland Sea Dogs and the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox.

Lavarnway got his first big break on August 18, 2011 when he was called up to the Red Sox; fellow Jewish player, Kevin Youkilis, went on what was then called the disabled list (now known as the “injured list”). He got his first major league hit the next day, and started for the Red Sox on September 27. Lavarnway still proudly remembers this game as he hit his first two major league home runs and had four RBIs in an 8–7 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.

Lavarnway returned to the minors and again saw action with the Red Sox on August 1, 2012, when he was called up from the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox. Lavarnway and fellow Yalie, fellow Jew (and in 2017, Team Israel battery mate), Craig Breslow, were Boston Red Sox teammates during part of the 2012 season. Lavarnway returned to Pawtucket where he was named best power prospect in the International League as well as the 2012 International League All Star starting catcher.

Lavarnway continued to be part of the Red Sox organization through 2014. In June, he had surgery to remove the hamate bone from his left wrist. He was designated for assignment in November, and his dizzying “see-the-country” baseball career continued as he was claimed off waivers in the winter, first by the Los Angeles Dodgers, then by the Chicago Cubs, and was signed by the Baltimore Orioles – his fourth team in 18 days. He played 10 games with the Orioles early in the 2015 season, then chose to become a free agent over accepting a minor league position in the Orioles’ organization.

He signed a minor-league contract with the Atlanta Braves in May 2015 and had 49 plate appearances for AAA Gwinnett before being called up to the majors. He was released by the Braves in May 2016. Lavarnway signed a minor-league contract with the Oakland Athletics, started the season with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, and was called up to Oakland in July. He played in one game – covering for a catcher on paternity leave – and then returned to the minors before being called up again by the A’s on July 27. He was designated for assignment in August and chose to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Lavarnway continued to find major league clubs interested in him. In January 2018, Lavarnway signed a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he had a decent 77 games for Triple-A Indianapolis before being called up to Pittsburgh on September 4. He had four hits in six at bats.

In November, Lavarnway again became a free agent – and was again picked up by another club. The New York Yankees signed him to a minor-league contract for the 2019 season, where he played with AAA Scranton, before being released July 18, and rushing off to Cincinnati. The next day, he hit two home runs for his new team.

Lavarnway continues to enjoy the excitement of playing baseball – and the potential to be called up for that dream moment.

“I am with my 10th organization since 2014,” he said. “I go where the job is, I don’t think about it. Every time I am called up – that’s what makes it worth it. Hopefully, I will help get a team to the World Series – it is an opportunity I don’t take for granted.”

Lavarnway feels his experience over so many years in different organizations and at different levels has made him a “quick-learn” on the job.

“It helps that I’ve been around a while and have so much experience catching different types of pitchers. I can catch guys I’ve never seen before, and I can build trust with new pitchers.”
As Lavarnway looks back on the 11 years since leaving Yale, he is proud of his professional and personal accomplishments.

He reported that he and his wife of six years, Colorado native Jamie Neistat Lavarnway, have gotten used to the “ups and downs.” She has had jobs in each town, has written a food blog in the past [“The Fork and Knife of a Baseball Wife”on cookinginredsocks.com] and has most recently done volunteer work in animal rescue in Nashville.

“It is hard to find something portable,” notes Lavarnway, indicating that Jamie has done an amazing job coordinating their personal travel and professional moves and “could be an excellent travel secretary” for a baseball team.

Ryan and Jamie love to travel and try new restaurants.

“We are trying to cross off the top 50 restaurants in the world,” reports Lavarnway. They recently visited the well-known Israeli restaurant in Paris, L’As du Fallafel (“it was so good!”). Next up on the Lavarnway’s off-season travel agenda is Thailand.

“In each city, [Jamie] finds the best restaurants for us to explore.” Lavarnway truly appreciates how fortunate he is to have a job with a long off-season. “We have a great life-where else can you have four months to travel?!”

The Lavarnways’ travels have also taken them to Israel, though that trip, with other members of Team Israel, was different from the others—Ryan recalls it as being “life changing.”

The blue-and-white’s impressive run in the World Baseball Classic and the team’s trip to Israel, was chronicled in the recent film, “Heading Home.” Lavarnway – who served as Team Israel’s starting catcher, went 8-for-18 (.565) with two doubles, a home run, and six RBIs, while walking five times – loved the movie.

“They did an amazing job, and it’s cool that a moment that was so important in my life is on video so I can relive it.”

Lavarnway can barely contain his excitement when speaking about the trip to Israel. While he always thought of himself as Jewish (his mother is Jewish and his father is not) and connected to the religion in his youth, he proudly stated that “the Team Israel experience and going to Israel helped me find my Jewish identify and reaffirm my own Jewishness.”

Lavarnway never got to participate on a Birthright Israel trip as he was busy playing baseball each summer. He refers to the Team Israel trip as “our baseball Birthright.” He especially enjoyed “seeing Israel, feeling the love, and seeing the people,” and liked learning about Jewish and Israeli history.

The Lavarnways continue to be connected Jewishly and are members of Temple Emanuel in Denver.

Lavarnway still feels very connected to Team Israel and to Israel Baseball.

“Our goal is for Israel Baseball to continue to grow. We didn’t want to just be a one-time WBC highlight. We wanted to grow the game internationally and domestically. Our whole goal was to get homegrown Israeli baseball players to keep playing at the highest level.”

While Lavarnway is willing to consider future involvement with the team as it works to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, he notes that he “hope[s] to be on a big league team in September – that is when the qualifiers are. But if I’m not, I’m totally willing to participate.”

Lavarnway loves baseball and hasn’t given much thought to life beyond. As he playfully commented, “Plan B distracts from Plan A.” While completing college is not itself a Plan B, he is taking steps in that direction. Lavarnway said that Yale has recently begun offering credit for online courses. Despite his busy 2019 baseball season, he recently completed two courses – Movie Physics and The Genius Course. “I just submitted my final paper for two Yale credits – I am now two credits closer to graduation,” though he still has seven more classes to complete to earn his degree.

For now, Lavarnway will focus on the rest of the baseball season – and dream of the call-up which may bring him back to the majors for a pennant race and another twist in his whirlwind tale.

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